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Is This Rape Case the Next Steubenville?

An Ohio woman who says she was gang-raped as a high school freshman reached out to Anonymous—with mixed results.

| Tue Jun. 11, 2013 6:46 AM EDT

The same day, Hocking County detective Caleb Moritz contacted Perez on Facebook. "We have heard from various sources that you, or someone you know, might have new information about Amanda Stevenson's sexual assault," Moritz wrote. "I would like to speak to you, or the person with the new information, so that we might further investigate the case and bring the perpetrator(s) to justice."

"Dude, you've gotta take that story offline…it is too early for it to be published in such a way."

Tolka and Stevenson were ecstatic, but they were taken off-guard by the news that Perez had posted her account of the evening, her post-rape hospital records, and the names and contact information of the alleged perpetrators where anyone could see them. "Dude, you've gotta take that story offline," Tolka told Perez in a Facebook message. "[We] have thinking to do, and it is too early for this to be published in such a way."

"lol, I can simply hide the page," Perez wrote back. "I'll do that now." (He didn't.)

About a week later, Moritz and another detective traveled to Virginia to interview Stevenson and let her know they'd reopened her case. (A spokesman for the sheriff's department declined to comment on any aspect of the case).

Stevenson quickly discovered that getting the cops back on the trail was the easy part. But without the DNA evidence, prosecution would hinge on new witnesses coming forward—or a confession, which seemed unlikely in a 12-year-old case.

In March, the Anonymous subgroup AmeriSec held a rally for Stevenson on the steps of a local courthouse. "We feel the best way to help move her case into court is to get as many eyes on it as possible," AmeriSec member Justin Fort, 23, told the Marietta Times.

"I don't really have time to jump into everybody's thing that's 10 years old," one Anon told me.

The sheriff's department disagreed. Moritz was particularly worried about Perez's website. "If one of the three would happen to stumble onto that page and read the information contained on it," Moritz told Stevenson via email, "they can use it to formulate a story and an alibi."

Stevenson says she and Tolka again contacted Perez, who told them he couldn't take the page down because he'd forgotten the password.

All in all, Anonymous has been helpful, Tokla says, but it hasn't been a "silver bullet." The couple had hoped the Anons might help them uncover new evidence, as they did in Steubenville and Nova Scotia. But when they attended a rally and met one of the leading Steubenville anti-rape organizers, known on Twitter as @Master_of_Ceremonies, he was reluctant to help. "I know personally I don't really have time to jump into everybody's thing that's 10 years old," MC told me. "There just aren't enough people to do stuff all the time."

Weeks passed, and Stevenson began to worry that the sheriff's department was soft-pedaling its investigation. In late April, Tolka contacted the crime victims section of the Ohio Attorney General's office, and requested that the state Bureau of Criminal Investigation get involved—it took over the investigation last month. On May 15, she met with Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers, whose office contacted me with a statement from the congressman: "Amanda is a very brave woman," it began, "and I appreciated the opportunity to meet with her."

At 14, "you don't want to accept that it happened," Stevensons says. "I am more stable and can revisit it without it crippling me."

In a brief interview last month, Hocking County Chief Deputy David Valkinburg urged me not to speak with the suspects for fear I would tip them off. He also suggested that Stevenson's publicity efforts were counterproductive. "We don't want to jeopardize an investigation, and we've tried to convince her of that," he told me, "but she's called some people before we even had a chance to interview any suspects."

There's also the issue of airing these types of accusations before anyone has been arrested or charged. One of Stevenson's alleged attackers is listed on his Facebook page as being in a relationship, and he appears in a photo with a boy who could be his son. Another is shown with an older woman, perhaps his mother. Neither man responded to Facebook messages seeking comment. When I tried to telephone the man Stevenson said drove her home from the party all those years ago, the number listed on Perez's website for him had been disconnected.

When I ask Stevenson why it took her so long to name her alleged attackers, she says she just hadn't been equipped, as a 14-year-old, to confront reality. "You don't want to accept that it happened, so it didn't happen," she says. "It's a hard thing to face. You are afraid of how it is going to define and change you." But now "I am more stable and can revisit it without it crippling me."

She doubts she'll win any convictions: "There's no evidence. I'm not going to be shocked or bothered when those guys don't go to jail." Mainly, Stevenson says, she wants to pressure law enforcement officials to take rape cases very seriously—in the same way that civil rights activists pressured police to prosecute racial discrimination cases during the 1960s. "It required people coming forward and bringing cases," she says, "and getting investigations to actually happen."

Working on the case has inspired her to apply to law school. "When I'm done, hopefully I'll be taking cases like this, for victims," she says. "And being the kind of person who won't walk away."

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